Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: After the recent water outages in Asheville, it made me wonder about the Biltmore Estate. As far as I know, it didn’t lose water, which made me wonder if the estate has its own water system. Can you check? Does it use city water? Does it have its own water storage facility on site? I’ve heard that the Biltmore actually owns the Busbee reservoir up above Ray Kisiah Park. Is that correct?
My answer: This much is clear after the great water debacle of 2022: if you want to avoid water outages, it’s best to own your own reservoir.
Real answer: In this case, the southern end of Asheville and Buncombe County bore the brunt of the outages, and Biltmore lies to the north. Still, the estate did see some effects from the outage, which lasted in places from Christmas to Jan. 4.
“We had a significant reduction in water pressure for a short time, but we never lost water completely,” estate spokesperson LeeAnn Donnelly said via email. “We were under the ‘boil water’ advisory for a period of time.”
Another estate spokesperson, Marissa Jameson, gave a rundown of the estate’s water program.
“Biltmore uses some city water that mixes in a holding tank on our property with our own well water,” Jameson said via email. “We only utilize reservoirs on the estate for irrigation.”
The 8,000-acre estate has an extensive farm operation, ranging from grapes and sunflowers to sheep and chickens. The estate also has two hotels and numerous restaurants.
Jameson noted that the estate’s water system is governed by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and “we are in compliance with all testing and distribution protocols.”
“You are correct that Biltmore owns the Busbee Reservoir,” Jameson said. “We do respectfully request that the location of reservoirs/the holding tank are not publicized as they are located in areas of the estate not open to the public.”
Busbee is not on the estate’s 8,000 acres of grounds. You can find it via Google pretty handily, so I think it’s OK to note that it lies between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Sweeten Creek Road, on the east side of town.
Question: I was just wondering what’s happening with the NCDOT project at the Overlook Road/ Hendersonville Road intersection. You had responded to a question about it when the project began last September — it was going to be some much needed improvements and additional lanes and was slated for completion at the end of 2022. Well, 2022 has come and gone, and the project still looks pretty far away from completion. It also looks like it has stalled or hit a snag. They’ve removed all of the heavy equipment from the site and have put down what looks like grass seed and straw, which I know is not something you do when you’re about to pave. Would you be able to look into this and find out what happened? I hope we’re still getting our improvements and extra turn lanes, which we really really need. Fingers crossed …
My answer: I am officially requesting that the NCDOT replace its weird little triskelion symbol with “fingers crossed.” I think that hits the nail on the head when it comes to our hopes for all of these road projects to be finished some day.
Real answer: See — crossing your fingers worked!
“The project is still coming,” Jody Lawrence, assistant construction engineer with the DOT’s Asheville office, said via email. “It will provide two left-turn lanes from Overlook Road, and one right-turn lane, to reduce congestion and backups at times when traffic is heavy.”
So, what’s the holdup?
“Delays in moving utility lines during the early phases of this $1.6 million project have delayed construction,” Lawrence said.
The contractor, NHM Constructors, opted “to pull off of the project until spring due to the seasonal freeze-thaw and winter weather patterns,” Lawrence said.
“These conditions, and nightly temperatures, are not conducive to road construction, especially since the majority of this work has to be done at night,” Lawrence said.
Regarding the grass cover, Lawrence said workers have stabilized the project area by applying temporary ground cover. Crews will monitor erosion control devices until they return in late March to complete the project, he said.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or (828) 337-0941.
Since the response from the Biltmore Estate is more than a “little vague/opaque”, below is a clear summary of Biltmore’s move to install 2 large wells to supply their water needs in the event of a loss of water from Asheville. THE BOTTOM LINE BEING THAT THE BILTMORE ESTATE DID NOT TRUST THE RELIABILITY OF THE ASHEVILLE WATER SYSTEM TO MEET THEIR BUSINESS NEEDS. THEY HAD THE FINANCIAL RESOURCES AND LAND AREA AND DRILLED TWO LARGE WELLS. Keep in mind too, that while the Biltmore Estate provides a major economic boost to our area, they pay NO property taxes to the City of Asheville; having moved to a farming exemption that allows these taxes to be deferred.
The information below is copied verbatim from an engineering website that did this work several years back. You might expect that McGill (engineering firm) will likely be asked to pull this page from their website in the coming days.
“Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina
GROUNDWATER SUPPLY WELLS FOR THE BILTMORE ESTATE
The Biltmore House is America’s largest residence at 178,926 square feet. Much has changed with the home and its grounds since it was first constructed in the late 1800s. Today, with two hotels and numerous restaurants, not to mention increased visitation, water demands for the Biltmore Estate have grown substantially due to the development of additional amenities for tourism at the estate. When the Biltmore was constructed, it was at the forefront of technology, including electrical power, an elevator, and an indoor heated swimming pool. But when the house was built, indoor plumbing was not common.
When the estate and house were built the estate developed its own water supply to provide for the needs of the Vanderbilts. The water system supplied for the demands of the house’s indoor plumbing system including 3 kitchens and 43 bathrooms. The estate’s water supply consisted of a totally undeveloped watershed that supplies water to the Busbee Reservoir. A 2.2-mile-long water line conveys water from the Busbee Reservoir to the Lone Pine Reservoir located on a hill above the house. A state-of-the-art sand filtration system treated the water prior to use. This system met the estate’s needs until the late 1980s when new regulations required the estate to connect to the City of Asheville’s water supply.
Growth of the estate, demands for additional water supply, and the dependence on a single water supply line from Asheville to the Estate raised concerns of vulnerability. McGill was commissioned by the Biltmore Estate to identify options to address potential susceptibilities of the water supply system.
Water demands for the Biltmore Estate are over 6 times greater than it was 30 years ago, growing from 20,000 gallons per day (GPD) in 1990 to 125,000 GPD today. Historically, the estate purchased 100% of its potable water supply from the City of Asheville. Managers became concerned with the vulnerability of the single City of Asheville connection, as well as the negative impact on tourism if a service line break were to occur or drought conditions resulted in “dirty” water for periods of up to 2 or 3 days.
The McGill water engineering team assisted the estate with the preparation of a preliminary engineering report to evaluate options to reduce vulnerability. Two options considered included a second water line connection with the City of Asheville and the development of groundwater supply wells.
The estate selected the groundwater supply well option. McGill and McCall Brothers conducted field observations of the estate property and underlying geology and selected two potential well sites. Our staff obtained well site approval from the Public Water Supply Section of NCDEQ-DWR. The team developed two deep water wells, each approximately 700-feet deep. Safe yield testing indicated a yield of 150 gallons per minute (GPM) or 108,000 gpd for each well. McGill completed a well water analysis and that showed only disinfection was needed for treatment prior to utilization of the wells.
McGill designed and obtained permits for distribution system improvements to connect the two wells into the Estates system. Improvements included approximately 17,000 linear feet (LF) of 6-inch and 8-inch water line, a chemical storage and injection system for disinfection and a new, 200,000-gallon prestressed concrete water tank to provide additional system storage.
The new system was successfully put to the test when the City of Asheville had a major water line break, shutting down supply of water to the estate for over 30 hours. The new wells were able to supply 152,900 gallons of water on the first day after the break and 162,500 gallons on the second day after the break, which supplied 100% of the estate’s demand, resulting in no disruption of service.”
Overlook Road construction. Won’t work in cold weather? What job did they apply for? This is why it takes so long for Asheville to get roads fixed. In other cities, they work day and night with multiple crews to get the work done. Cold weather, LOL this isn’t North Dakota.
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